Cheese platter with pumpkin jam and port wine on a Culinary Backstreets food tour in Porto

If you’re wondering what to expect from a Porto food tour with Culinary Backstreets, this article is for you. I had the pleasure of joining a small group tour in January and although I already know quite a lot about Portuguese food, I got to try some new things and visit establishments I never would have gone to on my own.

Our guide, Marta, is a true Portuense; born and bred in the city. She even pointed out the former hospital where she was born! She is also a skilled storyteller. Throughout the day, she wove threads of Portuguese history and cultural insights into a tapestry that built upon previous snippets and created a fascinating picture of Porto’s evolution from the middle ages to the present day.

Although you can book this food tour on a private basis, open groups are limited to 7 people. On my tour, there were just 4 others.

TIP: If you decide to book this tour, use my code: FOX5 to get a 5% discount

(Disclosure: Although my tour was comped, I was under no obligation to write about it. My review is an honest opinion, based on the experience I had. I also asked the other participants for feedback throughout the tour and all said they enjoyed it.)

Coffee and cakes

We started the food tour with what the Portuguese consider to be their second breakfast. In a typical café, which bakes its own cakes, we sat down for a coffee and two miniature pastries. One was a Jesuita, a triangle of flaky pastry topped with a thin layer of cinnamon icing, and the other was the bakery’s own homage to the Tentúgal pastries from the Coimbra region. Flaked pastry wrapped around a confection of eggs, flour and sugar, simply called especialidade, or house specialty.

Flaky pastry with sweet filling. Portuguese cakes for the win
Especialidade pastry, yummy Portuguese cakes

Over coffee, Marta explained the evolution of convent cakes in Portugal, including the use of sugar from its former colony, Brazil. As she talked about the north-south divide that exists here, as in other countries, we learned about the work ethic, regional dishes and attitudes of people in the north, a theme she would return to at various points during the tour.

Traditional grocery store

Next stop was a wonderful traditional grocery store that first opened in 1934 and has remained in the same family ever since. Amid the rows of wine, port, liqueurs, bacalhau (salted cod) and drawers of dried fruit and nuts, we were treated to a platter of Portguese cheeses and a glass of port wine.

Cheese and port wine tasting in a traditional grocery store on a Porto food tour
Cheese and port wine tasting in a traditional grocery store in Porto

Here, we learned how Portuguese people like their port wine and the importance of salt cod as an unlikely staple, given that it is imported from Iceland, Norway and originally Newfoundland.

Mercado do Bolhão

As we walked towards the city’s most famous market, Mercado do Bolhão, Marta pointed out the architectural styles that marked the expansion of Porto beyond the medieval city walls in the 18th and 19th century.

The market itself has been renovated but the original French-inspired architectural style is intact, with an upper balcony surrounding the covered stalls below. Although the new version of the market is very much gentrified and offers tasty treats packaged for tourists, most of the stallholders have been operating at Bolhão for decades.

Marta, our food tour guide, at the olive oil stall in Bolhão Market, Porto
Marta at the olive oil stall in Bolhão Market, Porto

This includes Teresa das Azeitonas (Teresa of the olives) whose family-run stall is now in its 5th generation. Here, we got to taste two distinctive olive oils from different parts of the country. Our group unanimously chose the one from the north of Portugal as our favourite.

Not only did we learn about olive oil, Marta used the marketplace setting to talk about the use of fish in Portuguese culture, including the relatively recent revival of canned fish. She also found an opportunity to enlighten us about soup as a vital part of the Portuguese diet, and to give us a potted history of the Salazar dictatorship and the peaceful revolution that ended it.

Portuguese hot dogs

I hadn’t been particularly looking forward to our next stop. On previous visits to Porto, I had seen people queuing up outside Gazela and couldn’t understand what could possibly make hot dogs worth waiting for.

I’m now a convert! We timed our visit just right, before the lunch crowds poured in, and managed to get seats at the counter. The staff who work there are full of character and more than happy to pose for photos. As long as you don’t commit the sin of having anything other than beer with your cachorrinho (little hot dog).

Contrary to what I was expecting (i.e. nasty frankfurter-type sausages), these are tiny baguettes filled with two types of sliced Portuguese sausage and a layer of melted cheese, all dabbed with a spicy sauce.

Young Portuguese man adding the secret sauce to cachorrinhos, little hot dogs from Porto
Adding the secret sauce to cachorrinhos

Football fan’s bar

Not far from Gazela is a small bar run by Paulo. There’s no mistaking which football team he supports – the whole place is adorned with F. C. Porto memorabilia. Here, we sampled petingas, which are tiny sardines, fried in a light batter, which you are supposed to eat whole. I am squeamish so I took the head off first. They’re actually a lot less faff than whole sardines, which are only available fresh during summer months.

Bar filled with football memorabilia and hanging cured hams
Bar of champions in Porto

We also had salpicão, which is marinated and cured pork neck. This pairs very well with the malty broa de Avintes bread, especially when washed down with a glass of Favaios, a muscatel wine from the north of Portugal.

Plate of Salpicão, cured pork neck sausage from Portugal
Plate of Salpicão, cured pork neck sausage from Portugal

Viewpoint and hardworking women

As we walked through the city streets to our next stop, in an off-the-beaten-track neighbourhood, Marta pointed out interesting buildings and regaled us with tales of Portuguese history. A brief detour took us to a secret spot that offers great views of the Douro River and Vila Nova de Gaia, even on a rainy day.

Steep hill with history and view of the Douro River, Dom Luís I Bridge and Serra do Pilar Monastery on a food tour in Porto
Steep hill with history and view of the Douro River, Dom Luís I Bridge and Serra do Pilar Monastery on a food tour in Porto

Lunch in a restaurant

After eating so much food already, I hadn’t expected to be served lunch as well. Luckily, Catarina, the owner of the small restaurant we went to, was able to give us small portions of caldo verde (kale soup) and the battered fish fillets that are so popular in Portugal (filetes).

Back in Bolhão Market, Marta had showed us where locals get their kale shredded to make this soup and although I find caldo verde a bit hit and miss, this was the right consistency and very tasty.

INSIDER TIP: If you are vegetarian, be sure to ask for this sem chouriço (without chouriço). Although you can’t see it in my photo, caldo verde is usually served with a slice or two of a traditional Portuguese pork and pepper sausage to add a smoky flavour.

Caldo verde, aka Portuguese kale soup
Caldo verde, aka Portuguese kale soup
Filetes, aka battered, fried fish fillets served with boiled rice and salad. Traditional Portuguese food
Filetes, aka battered, fried fish fillets. Traditional Portuguese food

Over lunch, and a bottle of vinho verde wine, Marta told us about the Portuguese Civil War in the early 19th century. Among other things, this ultimately lead to the abolition of religious orders in Portugal and the increased availability of convent cakes as destitute nuns tried to eke an existence by selling sweet treats.

Coffee and cake again!

No meal in Portugal would be complete without a dessert, and more coffee, so we rounded off our Porto food tour in a cosy café. Unlike the one we visited in the morning, this is run by a Brazilian musician, reflecting the largest immigrant population in Portugal and the long history that connects these two countries.

Bookshelves, bar and seating area. Dona Mira bar and café, Porto
Dona Mira bar and café, Porto

This is exactly the kind of cosy place that Mike and I like to spend time in and it’s also where you’re likely to find young Portuguese and no tourists. The cakes here are not traditional Portuguese but I’ll take another helping of the carrot cake any time!

The verdict

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, not just for the food but also for the cleverly woven stories, the local insights, pleasant company and the variety of venues, neighbourhoods, food and drinks.

At each venue, Marta gave us context and personalisation by telling us the history of the place and the people who run it, introducing us to them where possible.

The whole tour was unrushed but well-paced; we were able to ask questions, take photos and order extra food if we wanted. You definitely won’t end the tour hungry!

If you have two days in Porto, I suggest dedicating one to this food tour and another to visiting the main sights.

How to book this Porto food tour

Get 5% off with my code: FOX5

Choose your date and time and number of people then, after filling in your personal details, click the button under the price to add the code.

The price to pay will be recalculated before you enter your payment information.

Practicalities for this Culinary Backstreets Porto food tour

This is a walking tour so bring comfortable shoes.

You’ll have the opportunity to eat plenty of food so don’t have a massive breakfast, or lunch if you’re doing the afternoon tour.

I did the morning tour, meaning we started at 9:30 and finished around 3:30. The afternoon tour starts at 2 pm so would likely end around 8 pm. You won’t need dinner after that.

There are about 10-12 stops spread out over a period of around 6 hours so although there are a few short hills, it’s not overly demanding unless you have significant mobility issues.

You can see the full FAQs on the website.

More Porto travel tips

Find the best place to stay in Porto

Take a look at the best boutique hotels and guesthouses in Porto and holiday apartments.

Check out other things to do in Porto and possible day trips from Porto

Porto guide books

Aside from my self-guided walking tour of Porto, if you’re spending a long time in the city, you may find a dedicated Porto guidebook useful, and perhaps a city map. You can pick up free paper maps from the airport and tourist information offices but they won’t cover the outlying areas.

Click on any of these to get more details from Amazon:

Choose between the

Lonely Planet Pocket Porto Travel Guide


Pocket Rough Guide Porto

for a city-specific guide book.

If you want something more robust than the free city maps, try thisPorto map


  1. Hi Julie, The food in Porto is fantastic!

  2. Great columns/posts that I am reading before my trip to Portugal, which is very soon. Unfortunately, the FOX5 code didn’t work for the later suggested tour.

    1. Author

      Sorry to hear that. I will look into it.

    2. Author

      Hello again, I’ve resolved that issue now. Sorry for any inconvenience

  3. It would be interesting to get your recommendations for restaurants in the Ribeira-area.

  4. Hi Julie. We have enjoyed your newsletter and have now arrived in Lisbon from Toronto. Look forward to the Douro, Porto and the food. Thanks very much for your newsletter! Sincerely, Rod and Linda

    1. Author

      You’re welcome. Have a gret trip!

  5. how we love to talk about and sample food.I enjoyed the article very much and I am looking forward to my next trip hopefully soon.kindest regards…..

    1. Author

      Thanks, Michael. Hope you make it back very soon for more tasty treats!

Over to you. Please share your thoughts in a comment.